Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chicago International Film Festival

The Chicago International Film Festival kinda sucks. It lacks a curatorial vision. It's a haphazard selection of films that have already rounded the festival circuit. There is no coherent logic. Traditionally you can find most of their selection in theaters or online. But, since it takes place in the city where I live, it gives me the opportunity to see some stuff without waiting until next year. To give you an idea of the festival's priorities, the Tom Tykwer-Wachowski production of Cloud Atlas is a spotlight film with a top-tier priced ticket. Leviathan is a $5 matinee. Lucky me.

The festival runs October 11-25. Here are the only films I am interested in seeing. I'll only make it to about three. I bought my Holy Motors tickets immediately.

Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel)
Like Someone In Love (Abbas Kiarostami)
Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Night Across the Street (Raoul Ruiz)
Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl)
The Patsy (King Vidor)
Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)
Reality (Matteo Garrone)
Room 237 (Rodney Ascher)
Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Ridley Scott (2012)

This post is not about the cinematic qualities (or lack thereof) of Prometheus but about some ideas concerning the film as a cultural object.

Prometheus posits that the origin of the human race was engineered by aliens. These aliens resemble art deco Aryan supermen. From what we see, they are all men, they are as white as possible, and they created humans from their exact DNA. This scientific evidence was discovered by a couple of white British scientists who lead a team of white people to a distant planet, based on ancient carvings from various non-white world civilizations (Africa, Asia, Latin America). That is, the advanced white Europeans discover from primitive non-white civilizations the origins of all humanity.

I cannot help but find this eerily similar to the wave of turn of the century British archeologists who were so determined to prove that the white race originated in the United Kingdom that they perpetuated a series of hoaxes. So great was the urge to separate themselves and their culture from the origins of the species in Africa that they fabricated scientific finds. Ridley Scott's film does similar work. The scientific record not only finds the origin of our species in black people, but the origins of complex civilization and religion lie in North African and Middle Eastern cultures (brown people).

Was the prospect of black aliens too much to handle?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Screen Machine #2

The second issue of Screen Machine is now available online here.

There are many great pieces, but of course, I am obliged to direct you to mine on The Avengers. Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Time We Killed

"Terrorism got me out of the house, but the War on Terror drove me back in"

(Jennifer Reeves / 2004)

This film is doing a number of things at once. I've arbitrarily numbered a few that were either the most prominent or simply what I found to be the most interesting.

1. The Time We Killed struck me first as a genre film. It belongs to a tradition of self-conscious art film narratives, handheld and lo-fi, and of a hyper-subjective rendition of a specific place and time. More specifically, the strand of work that emerged in the mid-to-late eighties and early nineties, from Van Sant's Mala Noche to the work of Sadie Benning (and probably early no-wave Jarmusch). Reeve's mastery of this form makes her experimental work fresh and familiar, offering that delicate balance of self-examination and total narcissism, with the chunky beat language of a sophisticated poet and the accidental pleasures of a brazen student film aesthetic. But don't get me wrong, Reeves is an accomplished artist and I don't mean any of this negatively.

2. It's a tad on-the-nose to report that this functions as a time capsule for immediate post 9/11 anxieties, but then again, that is a major function of the film's poetics. But why this work is so engaging in this regard is its separation of documentation and expression from a coherent politics of its narrator. We learn nothing of substance from her political asides (Bush is evil) that is not reflective of those garden variety flaccid sentiments of anti-Bush politics. Reeves gives us a glimpse of anti-war protestors, rendered as a part of the fabric of the landscape so languidly navigated by the narrator. I find this approach more interesting than so many political works that attempt to weave together a narrative of American imperialism at the expense of complexity and contradiction; instead we have a more anthropological account of the general sentiments that failed to impact the immediate course of history, but were still an essential part of that time. The sense of despair and powerlessness at the televised invasion of Iraq is rendered in mundane anxieties about queer desires, writer's block, and generic social anxiety, punctured by literal invasions of media noise.

3. Reeves is fascinated by textures and surfaces, which are enhanced by the corporeality of 16mm film. The film becomes an artifact of a time that is understood in digital terms, of media saturation and found footage, of digital surveillance and consumer photography. But rather than scavenging the preferred and prevalent contemporary mediums, Reeves chooses to situate her work in a continuum with physical, grainy substances, alongside those sobering documents of spaces and times that captured the ruin of post-war Italy, the underground subcultures of seventies New York, or the fervent night-lives of Shinjuku. This makes The Time We Killed grounded in the moments it was filmed and assembled but also distant and unrelatable to most works of the period.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Top 10, of sorts (scrapped Sight and Sound post)

From the ashes of my scrapped Sight and Sound reaction I produced a Top 10 of the films I return to the most, for whatever reason: childhood nostalgia, fascination, introducing them to friends, or pure joy. The results were interesting. I can't say all of these are my favorite films, but then again, maybe they are.

Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold / 1998)
An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli / 1951)
The Cameraman (Buster Keaton, Ed Sedgwick / 1928)
The Case of the Grinning Cat (Chris Marker / 2004)
Dune (David Lynch / 1984)
Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese / 2002)
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray / 1954)
Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg / 1993)
The Life Aquatic (Wes Anderson / 2004)
Videodrome (David Cronenberg / 1983)

I'm perturbed that these are all white male directors, which complicates my own relationship to the prevailing narratives of cinema as a masculine mode of expression. But these films exist outside of my critical analysis. This is not meant to abrogate responsibility, but rather that this is something I have to consider within myself, as opposed to casting critical stones at others. Furthermore, I attempted to draft a list of my personal top 100 films, something I've never before articulated. It may eventually get posted.

Also two of my favorite blogs have posted Sight and Sound reactions: The Tarpeian Rock and The Long Voyage Home.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Cosmopolis + how to watch a movie #4


(David Cronenberg / 2012)

Cronenberg's body of work has engaged with perceptions of reality that almost always make this concept a central point, that is, we are aware we are experiencing a film about the nature of reality (eXistenZ, Videodrome, Spider) or the nature of the self (The Fly, A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method) or usually a combination of the two. But with Cosmopolis we are not. It's unnerving, phoney, obviously unreal, but played out with the deadpan seriousness of a low rent thriller. Cosmopolis feels as simulated as an Ida Lupino or Fritz Lang noir, mutated by the technologies and sensibilities of the cyber age. But like great cinema about the unreality of existence and the reality of cinematic experience, it remains vague and allusive, disturbing your sense of self without the comforting knowledge that you've merely watched a film about such-and-such, a la The Matrix (a worthy experience to be sure, but not at all like this rarer type of film). Cosmopolis contends with a shift in perception of the self (and subsequently, reality itself); a neo-liberal cogito that professes I possess, therefore I am.

Everyone walked out of the screening of Cosmopolis except for my partner and I and a guy in the back.


The films relationship to current social-political anxieties shares a strange correlation with two videos to emerge in the last week. I've posted them here with no contextualization for interested parties. The first is Slavoj Žižek on the future of "anti-capitalist" thought and action, provocatively titled "Don't Act. Just Think" and the second is footage of the final night of The Burningman Festival where a massive effigy of Wall Street was set aflame. I cannot help but feel that Cosmopolis is simultaneously feeding off of and engaging with these ideas and sentiments while remaining uncertain:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Tony Scott, 1944 - 2012

The reason this post is late is because I was a Scott detractor. I was on the verge of going through his body of work when he suddenly died. A minority of friends and critics I admire have long been champions of his, but I had yet to be 'sold' on his work.

Immediately following his death I watched (for the first time) Deja Vu and Unstoppable and I've acquired copies of Man on Fire and Domino. The man was a genius, a true visionary of the screen and I regret that I have nothing to say other than I will continue my delayed plan of working my way through his films.

I would like to offer a few words on my previous dislike of his work. Top Gun, Crimson Tide, and True Romance (last seen a decade ago in high school) struck my teenage sensibilities as bad, director-for-hire work, which at the time was a capitol offense. His late style that he developed from Enemy of the State onward washed over me as part of the noise of contemporary American action cinema that I lazily considered hack work, both for its inability to do what other directors did (I was not thinking in terms of intention) and was too similar at a sideways glance to Michael Bay and company. 

How wrong I was. Scott is a rare master of consciousness and perception, of space and time, comparable at times to Evgeni Bauer ( Deja Vu and After Death would make a killer double-feature).

Scott's politics are still stupid to me: the black and white patriotism, the masculinization of public spaces, etc. But this isn't reason to disregard his stylistic vision. After all, I love Griffith, does that mean I agree with his horseshit? I was guilty of failing to make this distinction, and I get the feeling its a large part of the conversation on Scott.

Two great pieces emerged from his death that have shaped my new found appreciation for Scott, who now holds considerable shelf space in my collection:  Vishnevetsky's piece for The Notebook and this video essay posted on Film Studies for Free.